Suzuka (Japan), April 13: Despite qualifying second in the Super Formula season opener at the Suzuka Circuit, Narain Karthikeyan’s race came to a premature end after a collision with eventual winner Loic Duval ended his chances of a top-five finish.
The Indian had qualified on the front row Saturday but had to start fifth after being slapped with a three-place grid penalty as he was adjudged to have impeded another car in free practice.
“It has been a disappointing end to the weekend after a promising start. We should have started on the front row but were fifth on the grid and then the incident with Duval scrapped any remaining hopes,” said Karthikeyan.
“During the drivers’ briefing, the organisers were clear that a three-place penalty will be awarded in case a driver is found impeding others during qualifying. But in my case it was during the start of the practice session which doesn’t really count towards anything. So the penalty was quite harsh and unfair and such miscommunication needs to be avoided.”
The completely revamped Super Formula series, formerly known as Formula Nippon, has switched to a new Dallara SF14 chassis this year, powered by a two-litre 550 bhp turbo-charged engine, similar to the new 2014 Formula 1 regulations.
Driving for Team Impul, Karthikeyan was still harbouring hopes of a strong finish, given his pace. Having made a decent getaway off the line, the Indian retained his position during the opening minutes of the 43-lap race and concentrated on maintaining his pace while managing the cold tyres on a full tank of fuel.
“The pace was four seconds or so slower with full tanks. So we obviously had to be careful during the earlier stages and track temperatures were considerably lower as well,” explained Narain.
But Frenchman Duval, who was on an early charge, seemed to run out of patience and a hasty move at the final chicane saw the two cars coming together, ending up taking the Indian’s right rear tyre out of shape.
“The car became undriveable after the hit and there was massive oversteer in left handed corners. I thought of continuing but it was just not possible given the circuit has several high-speed left handers,” he added.
His teammate JoÃ£o Paulo de Oliveira finished seventh.
“We know that we have the pace. We need to work a bit on the race strategy since it is new for everyone. At the next race in Fuji, we need to have a more rounded weekend and take our qualifying advantage into the race and put some solid points on the board to start our season in earnest,” he concluded.
The next race will be held May 18 at the Fuji Speedway.